Daily Gazette – "Blacksmiths' Skill Highlighted" May 1st, 2006
With no more than a 6-inch deep hole in the ground for a forge, Richard Simpson and Daniel Crowther got to work making a cooking pot.
Dressed in handwoven woolen plaids and homespun, their techniques mimicked the metal forging technology of Celt and Viking clans from as long ago as 200 B.C.
The forging demonstration at the Mabee Farm, on a sunny warm Sunday, marks the beginning of the educational season for the Rotterdam Junction historic site on Route 5S.
Manager Pat Barrot said the farm hasplanned a busy season with several new offerings — including a history camp for children in late July, an early technology day in August, and the addition of a fencing demonstration and naval skirmish during the annual Encampment on May 20-21.
"We're upping the ante with a lot of the events," Barrot said. "We're making them more educational and exciting." A full calendar of events is available online at www.mabeefarm.org.
Sunday's forging demonstration was a tranquil event centered around a small tent Simpson and Crowther pitched in a field near the Dutch Barn.
Simpson and Crowther dug a small pit, lined pit with wood charcoal - because bituminous charcoal was not available to the early Celtic and Norse clans - and lit a fire. They stoked the fire with a set of hand-hewn wood and leather bellows, using ceramic pipes to direct airflow into the heart of the pit.
For the sake of the demonstration, the pair work with a store-bought bar of . mild steel. Even so, the process of turning a bar of steel into a cooking pot and its hangers is painstakingly slow.
"We'll eat someday," Simpson joked to an appreciative crowd as he hammered into the steel.
Holding up a finished spear point, Crowther tallied up the workload at 2½ hours to shape the socket and blank blade and another six hours to sharpen the edges. And that doesn't include days more work if the spear point were to be started from scratch by smelting the steel.
"That's why swords were so prized. Out of the materials in one sword, I can make three or four spearheads," Crowther explained. "That means three or four guys who were armed versus one guy with a really expensive weapon."
Simpson and Crowther are members of Ancient Celtic Clans, a Celtic re-enactment group that seeks to accurately represent a typical Celtic community with members serving as bards, smiths, carpenters, druids, farmers, brewers, chieftains, leatherworkers and warriors.
Standing among a semi-circle of spectators, Bob Lillquist said his family made a point of stopping by the farm for the forging demonstration. Lillquist, who traces his roots to Sweden , claims Viking blood and says he has always been interested in Viking history. His 15-year old son Robbie Lillquist said he enjoys learning about weapons-making, an interest that he attributes to playing video games.
The elder Lillquist, a GE physicist, specialized in instruments to monitor metallurgy of titanium and cutting edge alloys. Watching the early forging techniques is a link to his own work.
"So much of history before the Roman Empire and outside of their reach is conjecture," Lillquist said. "The only way you can know about it is to see how things were made."
Simpson said they develop their techniques by studying artifacts found in Celtic and Viking archaeology digs. There is no written history of the cultures in which they specialize, so they piece together the artifacts with the materials the tribes had on-hand.
"If you limit yourself to what was available to them, you'll come up with the same thing," Simpson reasoned. "If you had wood to work with, you would build you house out of wood. If you had stone, like in Scotland , you would build your house out of stone."